Biblical Creation and Personality
Is there such a thing as human personality? The usual answer is that of course there is such a thing, and it is easy to define. After all, everyone is nice or nasty, looks and acts a certain way and has certain goals, habits and oddities. There are "disturbed personalities" due to circumstances or heredity; come to think of it, "normal" personalities are also formed by circumstances and heredity, are they not? Personality is thus defined as man's behavior and as the function of circumstances and heredity.
Yet deeper reflection is not satisfied with this answer Men are creative, producing things of beauty or utility undreamed of before. Human creativity transcends and hence cannot be explained by circumstances and heredity. Man always sets up rules of what shall count as right and wrong in human relations; neither circumstances nor heredity can account for this moral faculty in man, at most for variations in the rules themselves. Man has at MI times and places shown spirituality, that is, a sense of worship, awe, fear and longing for some spiritual power higher than himself. Again, circumstances and heredity cannot account for this spiritual dimension of man. The question also arises how man can at one and the same time be an individual with a unique personality of his own, and also live in unity with his fellow men. How is it that man can speak as no other creature can? Why is man in fact the ruler of the rest of creation whether he wills or not? What, in short, is the origin of human personality?
Only biblical creation can adequately account for all features of human personality. The foundation is laid in the words of Genesis 1:26-28:
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness: let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him: male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it..."
Note first that God spoke. He Himself is a person, for an impersonal entity or concept cannot speak. Man's speech is accounted for by his creation in God's own likeness and image. Note next that God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness." This "Us" and "Our" points to a plurality of persons in God, fully revealed in the New Testament as the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Man reflects this Triune God's own image and likeness in the personhood of each individual human being as well as in community of mankind. Note, lastly, that man was commanded to be fruitful, multiply and have dominion over the rest of creation. Man's obedience to this command concretely reflects God's image. Only by obedience to this command can man develop and express his unique individual personality as well as his creation-ordained community with his fellow men. This is simply another way of stating God's highest commandment according to Jesus Christ: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). In man's creation as male and female and in God's command to man to be fruitful and multiply we see that people are essentially one family whose members are to complement, love and help each other, even as do the Members of the Holy Trinity.
Thinkers who cut themselves off from the God of the Bible also cut themselves off from mankind. For example, let us look at the modern atheist materialist evolutionist founder of Communism, Karl Marx (1818-1883) and the pantheist neoplatonist idealist philosopher Plotinus (ca.205-270 A.D.). At first sight they greatly differ in thought and historical circumstances. However in his outstanding analysis of their thought Fr. Valery Lapkovsky has found many essential similarities between them.1 Neither thinker developed a concept of personality. For Marx man is merely the product of material processes and a function of his social-economic period. For Plotinus man is merely the product of the cyclical natural processes within a pantheistic One. Both thinkers inclined towards a totalitarian society in which the individual is merely a number Both highly esteemed war and continuous violent conflict as the means of social cleansing and upward evolution. Both looked upon the enormous human suffering resulting from war and violence as spectators in a theater.
When a whole society adopts such anti-God and hence anti-human thought, the people are cruelly and pitilessly oppressed. At the mildest level they are already painfully aware of their degradation. As one Russian wrote his local newspaper, "We are not people but robots without hearts, conscience and honor." The harshest level is akin to hell. Vladimir Bukovsky, for many years imprisoned in Soviet jails, camps and insane asylums, writes:
The worst was the feeling of the loss of personality. It is exactly as if they smashed you with your face to the asphalt and as if no characteristic traits or individual features were left. It is exactly as if your soul with all its shades, turns and most secret corners and patterns were pressed out with a gigantic flatiron and became smooth and even, like a cardboard puppet.2In his famous novel 1984 George Orwell gives us a similar unforgettable description: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."3
Self-aggrandizement of the most ruthless leaders of such societies always accompanies the suppression of the dehumanized masses. Ironically, in the case of Stalin this was called "Cult of Personality," as though true human personality in God's own image and likeness, and extreme personality perversion in a godless individual were somehow the same.4 Such perverse "personality cults" are but another side of the personality destruction entailed by militant revolt against the Creator.
The breakdown of man's personality is an ever present danger not only in totalitarian societies but in politically free ones as well. It threatens whenever the foundation of man's personality, namely, biblical creation in God's own image and likeness, is neglected and denied. Modern Western psychology offers a particularly striking example in the "behaviorist" school of American psychologist B. F. Skinner (1904- 1992). Skinner, an erstwhile theology student who totally abandoned the Christian faith while at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and a thoroughgoing evolutionist, teaches that man is a mere function of his "conditioning." Man has no free will, no personality and no soul; he really does not exist but is a mere phenomenon, or the mere location where certain acts or processes take place. For example, Skinner has denied that a man can write a poem; instead, "poeming occurs" in a man. Dr. Paul D. Ackerman, editor of the Creation Social Science and Humanities Quarterly, a professor of psychology at Wichita State University and a behaviorist before his conversion to Christ, has movingly described the futility, emptiness and depression he felt as a behaviorist who seriously tried to deny his own meaningful existence.5 Dr. Ackerman had attempted to defend the real, meaningful existence of human personality before his conversion, but he could never convince his academic opponents because he had granted them their first premise that man is the product of atheistic evolution rather than created by God in His own image and likeness. By granting unbelievers their starting point, atheistic or pantheistic evolutionism which eliminates the God-Creator of the Bible, we submit in principle to the elimination of our own meaningful selves.
The remainder of creation also suffers when man denies his true origin and purpose under God. Remember that when God created man, He gave him dominion over all other creatures on earth. Man is not the product of and hence in principle subject to the rest of creation as all non-biblical, evolutionist world views must logically presuppose, but rather its viceroy under God. Without biblical creation as our starting point we tend to fall into two opposite perversions in dealing with lower creatures: we either idolize them (Romans 1:21-23), or we ruthlessly exploit them. The Christian believer in biblical creation can and must avoid either error. Yes, not only we ourselves but all creation suffers when we forget or deny our true origin and calling! As St. Paul says,
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God... because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails with birth pangs together until now. (Romans 8:19, 21-22)All creation's bondage of corruption through man's fall and sin, and its deliverance into "glorious liberty" as redeemed and regenerate man himself becomes a partaker of God's own life, holiness, righteousness and goodness in Christ has been joyfully perceived and preached especially by Orthodox Christians. The wonderful book For the Life of the World by Fr. Alexander Schmemann is a particularly fine witness to this truth.6
We can be true personalities only moment by moment by God's grace as we trust and obey Him Who not only created us but Who also watches over us, directs us and prepares our paths in fatherly love (Psalm 23, Is.63:9, etc.) It is the essence of the fall and of sin, and also impossible folly, to attempt to be personalities or "to be as God" by ourselves while denying and disobeying our Creator, Lord and Helper. Men who persist in unbelief and rebellion against God are like branches deliberately cutting themselves off from the tree. Though they may look alive for a while, they and their leaves and fruit are withering and dying. Unless they are grafted back into the tree in time, they will be fit only for burning (cf. Ps.1; John 15:1-6; Romans 11:15-23).
It is a great miracle that God created us as individuals yet also as parts of a body. The beautiful Scottish Christian writer George MacDonald (1824-1905) wrote:
The mystery of individuality and consequent relation is deep as the beginnings of humanity, and the questions thence arising can be solved only by him who has, practically at least, solved the holy necessities resulting from his origin. In God alone can man meet man. In Him alone the converging lines of existence touch and cross not. When the mind of Christ, the life of the Head, courses through that atom which the man is of the slowly revivifying body, when he is alive too, then the love of the brothers is there as conscious life.7MacDonald also saw that the completion of each individual person is known to God from the beginning, hut to the man himself only at the end of time:
The giving of the white stone with the new name [Revelation 2:17] is the communication of what God thinks about the man to the man......The true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the meaning of the person who bears it. ... Who can give a man this, his own name? God alone. For no one but God sees what the man is ... It is the blossom, the perfection, the completeness, that determines the name: and God foresees that from the first because He made it so [Acts 15:181... Such a name cannot be given until the man is the name.5Worship of God also inseparably belongs to man's personality created in God's own image and likeness. There is no culture anywhere without some kind of religious worship. Of course pagan worship in antiquity or neo-pagan worship today such as in the `New Age" movement, or for that matter in the cult of Lenin in the Soviet Union, cannot substitute for worship of the true God, the God of biblical creation. As St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions: "Thou hast created us for thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in thee." Nor do we truly worship God as a fear-compelled mass of slaves, as Stalin demanded to be worshipped at the height of his "personality cult." No, we worship freely and in love as a body (1 Cor.12) in which our Lord has prepared a special, unique place for each of us individually George MacDonald saw this wonderful truth as well:
The name is one "which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." Not only then has each man his individual relation to God, but each man has his peculiar relation to God. He is to God a peculiar being, made after his own fashion, and that of no one else. Hence he can worship God as no man else can worship bim.9Even as He first created the rest of the world for Adam and Eve to live in, so God ~so determined our circumstances in history, characteristics and abilities, so we might function in our lives according to His purpose. This is also true for unbelievers and God-haters (Ex.9:16; Romans 9:17, 86). But circumstances and abilities are not all there is, and the concept of human personality as their product is the deadly lie of men spiritually dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1). Our true personalities are buried in us through the fall but graciously resurrected as God gives us new life, His own eternal life from above when we are born again in Christ. Then we can say with St. Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live; yet it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal.2:20).
If we persist in unbelief and rebellion against our Creator Who alone can regenerate us, we lose our personalities forever through our "second death" in hell (Matthew 25:41; Re~2O:14-15). Christ solemnly warns us that "whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:25-26). The well-known English "apostle to the skeptics" of our time, C. S. Lewis (1898-1968), wrote that:
The more we get what we now call "ourselves" out of the way and let [Christ] take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.....our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to "be myself' without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires.... It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. I said there were Personalities in God. I will go further now. There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. 10To sum up, a concept of man's personality built merely upon circumstances and heredity cannot account for man's creativity, moral faculty, spirituality, individuality in community, language, rule over the rest of creation, and origin. Only man's creation in the Triune God's own image and likeness can. Denying this God leads to denial of personality through brutal enslavement of the "masses" and perverse self-aggrandizement of the leaders, and involves all creation in the bondage of corruption. Deliverance is possible only by man's regeneration in Christ. Without Him we are ns branches cut off from the tree, dying and fit only for burning. In Him alone we can become the true, living persons He means us to be. In the words of our Lord about His Beloved and her answer to Him in the Song of Songs, chapter 4, verses 12, 15-16,
A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, A spring shut, a fountain sealed. A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters Awake, O north wind, and come, O south! Blow upon my garden, that its spices may flow out! Let my beloved come to His garden, And eat its pleasant fruits.May His Wind, His Holy Spirit, thus resurrect our personalities to His joy! Amen.
(Prepared for Christian Conference in Moscow May 25-27, 1990.)
1 Fr. Valory Lapkovsky, "Metastazy ekataza" in Bulleten' khristianskoi otshchesttennosti [Christian Community Bulletin], 1989/13 (Moscow, Raketnyl bul'var, d.7, kv. 12, pp. 72-83.
2 Vladimir Dukovaky, I tosnrashchaetsyu t'eter [And the Wind Is Returning] (New York: Khronika Press, 5058th Ave., New York 10018,1978), p.13.
3 George Orwell, 1984 (New York: New American Library Signet Classic, Forty-Seventh Printing 1961), p.220.
4 Stalin, by the way, studied for the priesthood in the Russian Orthodox Church but abandoned the faith and turned to Communism after being introduced to Darwin's Origin of Species by a fellow seminarian.
5 Dr. Ackerman's testimony is available in video cassette form on loan free of charge. To book, contact the Creation Social Science and Humanities Society, 1429 N. Holyoke, Wichita, Kansas 67208, (316) 683-3610.
6 Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood, NY: St.Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1973).
7 C. S. Lewis, ed., George MacDonald: An Anthology (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Dolphin nook 1962), p.49.
8 ibid., pp. 36-37.
9 ibid., pp. 37-38.
10 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, First Paperback Edition 1960). pp.174-175.